Category Archives: Samples

Firriato Wines: Showcasing what Sicily has to Offer

What comes to mind when you hear the words: “Italian WIne”? Our guess is that most people immediately think of regions like Chanti, Piemont, or Veneta, or grapes like Sangiovese, Nebbiolo, or Barbera. Some with broader wine experience may go to Barolo or Montepulciano; Dolcetto or Nero d’Avola. Yet not many, in our estimation, think of Sicily and the lesser-known grapes native to that volcanic island. We certainly didn’t. Until recently. 

Not long ago, we received an email inviting us to join a virtual tasting of wines from Firriato, a winery that has been making wine in Sicily since 1978. Always up for an adventure, we accepted the invitation. Alas, the day of the Zoom call, we were traveling and unable to attend, but our hosts graciously provided three samples nonetheless, and agreed to send us the presentation. 

The following wines were provided as media samples for review. All reviews, descriptions, and opinions are our own. We received no additional compensation.

Sicily is the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea, located just off the “toe” of Italy’s “boot.” The island is home to Mount Etna, one of the world’s most active volcanoes. With frequent eruptions, including the current activity which has been ongoing since February, 2021, the volcano creates obvious challenges, but also opportunities for the residents of Sicily. The resulting volcanic soils on the island are perfect for viticulture and producing stunning wines. 

Vineyards on Sicily range in elevation from sea level on adjacent Favignana island, to 1,200 meters (nearly 4,000 feet) on Mount Etna. This provides varied growing conditions in terms of soil content and climate. There are 80 native grape varieties, with just 13 available to vinify according to Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC) regulations. 

The name Firriato is derived from a western Sicilian term, used to define the area closest to the house. This is a well protected area, where the most valuable crops are planted. Firriato can be loosely compared to the French term “Clos”, meaning closed or walled. 

Firriato was established by Salvatore Di Gaetano, who recognized the opportunity to produce high-quality wine on the island. Today, the company has 470 hectares (approximately 1,160 acres) of vineyards, all of which are certified organic. The company portfolio includes seven estates, located in all three major growing regions in Sicily; Favignana Island, the hilly Trapani Countryside, and of course, Mount Etna. They produce a range of wines under nine different labels. 

Access to such diverse growing areas means Firriato can capitalize on the varied soil conditions. The soils on Favignana Island are composed of biocalcarenites (containing fossils) of the quaternary period, which impart saline and balsamic qualities to the wines. In the Trapani Countryside, red marlstones and calcareous-clay soil lends itself to elegant and full bodied wines. And as expected, Mount Etna has young sandy soils of basaltic origin, which produce bold, full bodied wines with mineral characteristics. 

In addition to the commitment to certified organic farming, Firriato was the first Zero Impact winery in Italy, achieving certification as carbon neutral. Their commitment to the environment does not stop there. As part of their progress toward attaining carbon neutral certification, they started planting trees, which they have continued to do to this day. In fact, Firriato has an “adopt-a-tree” program. Click here to learn more and participate in this initiative!  

The wines we received as samples are from the La Sabbie Dell’Etna line, which as the name implies, are from grapes grown on the slopes of Mount Etna. Here, Firriato has 84 hectares (approximately 207 acres) under vine, ranging in elevation from 550-900 meters (1,800-3,000 feet.) Even within Mount Etna’s range, there are 12 distinct sub-zones, each with varying soil conditions. Included in the vineyards are some certified pre-phylloxera vines, growing on native rootstocks more than 150 years old. 

Each of the wines presented are from native grapes. The most exciting aspect of that for us (especially Kent, who has a passion for obscure and lesser-known grapes) is that we hadn’t heard of any of these varieties before! All of the wines featured are available for purchase at winesfromitaly.com.

La Sabbie Dell’Etna Etna Bianco 

Grapes: Carricante and Cattarato 

Pale straw color. On the nose, lemon, grapefruit, pineapple, and saline. Flavors of pineapple, citrus, pear, and minerals. Soft mouthfeel (sir lie aged) with medium body and bright acidity. A delicious wine. 

La Sabbie Dell’Etna Etna Rosato 

Grape: Nerello Mascalese

Pale peach/salmon color. Muted aromas of peach and saline, with a hint of earth. The palate is more pronounced with flavors of peach, strawberry, watermelon, raspberry, and minerals. Light body and fresh acidity with a clean finish. 

La Sabbie Dell’Etna Etna Rosso

Grapes: Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio 

Surprising. Clear, light garnet color with brick rim. On the nose, raspberry, cherry, clove, and smoke. On the palate, it has a very light body, but big flavors of black cherry, plum, stewed prune, raspberry, tobacco, leather, and hints of licorice and minerals. Very soft, with mild tannins and smooth acidity. Great pizza wine.

As our next European adventure, we had already been planning to visit Italy. After experiencing these wonderful wines from Firriato, we will be sure to add a few days in Sicily to our itinerary so we can visit Firriato and other wineries on the island. 

If these wines intrigue you, go to winesfromitaly.com to purchase. We are confident you will enjoy them as much as we did.

Cheers! 

  • By Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael-Reynolds
  • Photos by Robyn Raphael-Reynolds

Domaine Bousquet: Taking Winemaking to New Heights

We wrote about Domaine Bousquet not long ago, when we received a sample of their Gaia Rosé 2020. In that post, we wrote a little about the history of the Bousquet family and the creation of Domaine Bousquet in the Gualtallary Valley, high in the mountains in Argentina, and the fantastic wine. So naturally, we were honored when we were invited to a virtual tasting including discussions with Anne Bousquet, current proprietor of the winery, and Franco Bastias, the winery’s chief agronomist. (What’s an agronomist? An expert in the science of soil management and crop production. Now you know, too.) Of course, to be a virtual “tasting”, one must have wines to taste. We were pleased to receive as samples, six bottles of Domaine Bousquet wine.

The following wines were provided as media samples for review. All reviews, descriptions, and opinions are our own. We received no additional compensation.

In their presentation, entitled “Dishing the Dirt”, Anne and Franco discussed what makes the terroir of Domaine Bousquet so unique. Spoiler alert: The subtitle is “The secret is in the soil.” Anne started us off with some history of the land, family, and winery. 

In 1997, Anne’s father Jean Bousquet, moved from Carcassonne, in Languedoc, France, to the Gualtallary Valley, and purchased a plot of land that had never been cultivated. In this arid region, the driest wine growing region in the world, first things must come first, so in 1998, Jean Bousquet dug a 495 foot deep well for irrigation. Meanwhile, in 2002 as vineyards were taking shape, Anne and her husband, Labid Al Ameri, started to invest in the winery, while maintaining their non-wine-industry careers in Boston. The first vintage was released in 2005, and Labid joined full time in the sales department. By 2008, Anne was on board and she and her family relocated to Argentina. Jean retired in 2011, and Anne and Labid, and Anne’s brother, bought Domain Bousquet and assumed day to day operations. In the years since, production has increased, and in 2020, they sold approximately 7 million bottles of wine. 

Domaine Bousquet is planted to 618 acres of vines, all of which are organic. In fact, they received their organic certification in 2005, the same year as their first vintage was released. With Domaine Bousquet coming out of the gate as certified organic, they raised the bar for other growers in the region, from whom Domaine Bousquet would buy grapes, and many of them have achieved organic certification as well. In addition to organic, Domaine Bousquet has also achieved certifications as vegan and sustainable.

As good as organic, vegan, and sustainable is, Domaine Bousquet doesn’t stop there. They have launched a “360° Sustainability Commitment”. This includes supporting the community and the people who live in and around the town. This is a three-prong commitment: environmental, social, and economic. We’ve covered the environmental part. On the social and economic sides, Domaine Bousquet is certified “Fair for Life.” This certification is part of a fair trade and corporate responsibility commitment for global change for the better and helping others. As part of this, the winery supports several children’s homes in the area, and has donated more than $113,000 to help those in the community experiencing economic hardship and social exclusion. Those are some causes we can get behind and gladly support by purchasing Domaine Bousquet wines! 

Next, we met Franco. Franco’s energy and enthusiasm were immediately evident, and infectious. He gave us some geography lessons, then, in video segments, took us deep into the soil. Literally. 

The Uco Valley is comprised of three departments: Tupungato in the north, Tunuyan in the middle, and San Carlos in the south. Domaine Bousquet is located in Tupungato. This area of the valley was originally settled by Jesuit missionaries in the 17th century. By the early 1900’s, orchards, vineyards, and other crops were planted. It wasn’t until the early 2000’s, however, that the wine world started to take notice, as local producers started attracting attention to the region. 

The soils in Tupungato vary from rocky to sandy and silt, which flowed down from the Andes mountains. At these elevations, and with the harsh winters there, diurnal temperature swings of up to 59°F can occur, resulting in fresh, fruity wines. One of the other distinctive conditions are calcareous soils, containing concentrations of calcium deposits, which add to the unique character of the wines. 

In the video segments, Franco showed us cross sections of the soil conditions in soil pits, which are dug several feet deep directly adjacent to rows of vines. This was fascinating to see, as each of the wines featured have different soil conditions. As Franco walked us through the various soil pits, we tasted along with the wines. Isn’t that what it’s all about? 

Domaine Bousquet Sauvignon Blanc 2021

Pale straw color. On the nose, apricot, peach, and pineapple. On the palate, pineapple, citrus, peach, and pear. Bracing acidity, yet very smooth with a soft finish. 

Domaine Bousquet Reserve Chardonnay 2019

A very unique and enjoyable Chardonnay. Golden color. Nose of pear, peach, and tropical fruit /mango. On the palate, a tropical paradise: pineapple, mango, with citrus, pear, and just a hint of butter. Creamy mouthfeel, with balanced, vibrant acidity. Medium plus body, with a citrus finish. 

Domaine Bousquet Reserve Pinot Noir 2019

Bright ruby color. Cherry, raspberry preserves, and white pepper on the nose. On the palate, juicy fruit flavors of raspberry, strawberry, and red cherry, with cedar, and spice. Light-to-medium body, soft tannins, bright acidity, and a medium red fruit finish. 

Domaine Bousquet Cabernet Sauvignon 2019

Deep garnet color with a ruby rim. Lots of classic Cab Sauv characteristics. Nose of blackberry, cassis, and black cherry. On the palate, black cherry, plum, black currant, blackberry, and cedar. Medium-plus body, integrated tannins, medium acidity, and a long finish of red fruit, baking spice, and pepper. Fresh & clean so the fruit really shines. 

Domaine Bousquet Gaia Cabernet Franc 2018

Inky garnet color. Funky, earthy nose, with red cherry and boysenberry. On the palate, ripe, juicy blackberry, boysenberry, blueberry, and hints of bell pepper and baking spice. Big, full body, with ripe tannins, medium acidity, and a long finish of dark fruit and black pepper and minerals. 

Domaine Bousquet Gran Malbec 2018

Wow! Very soft and smooth. Deep purple with a garnet rim. Black cherry, plum, and blackberry on the nose. On the palate, ripe blackberry, black cherry, blueberry, and Marionberry, with hints of cedar, cocoa, and baking spice. Rich, full body with velvety tannins, medium acidity, and a long finish of black fruit and chocolate.

All of the wines are very well structured and balanced. With minimal oak influence, each wine allows the fruit to take center stage and shine. In the days following the virtual tasting, we enjoyed finishing the bottles with our meals. All are very food friendly, yet able to stand on their own as evening sippers. Did we mention value? The SRP for these wines is shocking; they all drink well above their price point! 

  • Domaine Bousquet Sauvignon Blanc 2021 / SRP $13
  • Domaine Bousquet Reserve Chardonnay 2019 / SRP $18
  • Domaine Bousquet Reserve Pinot Noir 2019 / SRP $18
  • Domaine Bousquet Cabernet Sauvignon 2019 / SRP $13
  • Domaine Bousquet Gaia Cabernet Franc 2018 / SRP $20
  • Domaine Bousquet Gran Malbec 2018 / SRP $25

We are very impressed with the wines that Domaine Bousquet is producing, and their commitment to sustainability and corporate social responsibility. We definitely recommend you seek out these wines and enjoy them for yourself. 

Cheers!

  • By Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael-Reynolds
  • Photos by Kent Reynolds

Review: Suisun Valley Petite Sirah

Can we talk? 

Let’s get this out of the way up front. Petite Sirah and Syrah are not the same grape. They’re not even spelled the same. However, they do have a few things in common. Both are native to the Rhone,in France. Both go by different names in different parts of the world, most notably, Australia, where Petite Sirah is known as Durif, and Syrah is called Shiraz. What’s more, in 1996, genetic testing determined the Syrah is actually one of the parent varieties of Petite Sirah, the other being the nearly extinct grape, Peloursin

Now that we have that cleared up, let’s talk about Petite Sirah from Suisun Valley. What? Where? Wait, you’ve never heard of Suisun Valley? You’re not alone. But you’ll be hearing that name more and more as this up and coming region makes its mark on the wine world. 

Suisun Valley is located in Solano County, California, which is adjacent to Napa County. Suisun Valley is just a 30 minute drive southeast of Napa, and shares a similar climate with Napa. However, the soils here are more welcoming to what has become Suisun Valley’s signature grape, (drum roll, please): Petite Sirah. 

As a lesser known region, Suisun Valley lacks the notoriety, traffic, crowds, and high prices of its northern neighbor. Instead, small family farms, many of them generations old, dot the landscape. Tasting rooms, too, are family owned and offer a casual and inviting tasting experience. Suisun is also very accessible, just off I-80 in Fairfield, California. (If you’ve been to Napa via I-80, you’ve driven through Fairfield.) There are currently 12 wineries in the valley, with just 3,000 acres under vine. Sounds delightful, no? 

We had the opportunity to sample the wines from five Suisun Valley producers. The Suisun Valley Wine Co-op assembled this sample pack of 2 oz. tasters to tantalize our taste buds and leave us longing for more. It worked.  

The following wines were provided as media samples for review. All reviews, descriptions, and opinions are our own. We received no additional compensation.

  1. Caymus-Suisun Grand Durif Petite Sirah 2018

Inky purple color. On the nose, blackberry, plum, and black pepper. These continue on the palate, with “cabinet spice”, cedar, and tobacco. Full body with vibrant acidity and medium tannins. Long finish with black fruit, tobacco, smoke, and spice. 

  1. Mangels Vineyard Reserve Petite Sirah 2018

Bright purple color with a ruby rim, Nose of boysenberry, blackberry, and black cherry. On the palate, bing cherry, raspberry, and blackberry. Chalky texture and tannins, soft acidity, and a long finish of black and red fruit.

  1. Tenbrink Vineyards Estate Grown Petite Sirah 2016

Deep purple with a ruby rim. Nose of blackberry, green pepper, and jalapeno. On the palate, blackberry and cherry, with a surprise guest: black olive. Full body, edgy tannins, and medium acidity. Nice, long finish.

  1. Suisun Creek Winery Estate Grown Petite Sirah 2017

Inky purple color, with ruby rim. Nose of blackberry, stewed prune, and boysenberry. On the palate, black cherry, plum, and blackberry. Smooth tannins, medium acidity, and as expected, a rich, full body. Pleasing, smooth finish. 

  1. Wooden Valley WInery Lanza Family Petite Sirah 2018

Deep purple color. The nose is vegetal, with notes of blackberry and bramble. On the palate, bright blackberry, Marionberry, black cherry, jalepeno, and our new friend, black olive. Full body with drying, grippy tannins, bright acidity, and a long, smooth finish.

We enjoyed each of these samples, and it was very interesting to experience the diversity of style and character, considering each sample was the same grape, from the same small region. We look forward to the opportunity to visit Suisun Valley to taste more of the wines coming from this emerging region.

  • By Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael-Reynolds

Review: Ron Rubin Wines

Our appreciation for Russian River Valley wines has been on the rise lately. We’ve been exploring and drinking more wines from this region, and have been quite impressed with the quality and the distinct character of the wines, winemakers, and winery owners. So naturally, when we were offered samples of two bottles from Ron Rubin Winery, in the Russian River Valley, we gladly accepted. 

The following wines were provided as media samples for review. All reviews, descriptions, and opinions are our own. We received no additional compensation.

The story of Ron Rubin Winery came to life in 2011, when Ron purchased a winery in the Green Valley neighborhood of the Russian River Valley. Ron got his start in the beverage industry at a young age, when as a child he would spend time in the warehouse of his family’s wholesale liquor company in Illinois. In 1971, Ron traveled to California to attend U.C. Davis to study viticulture and oenology. From this experience, and the exposure to the then-fledgling wine industry in California, Ron started to add California wines to the family portfolio. All this paved the way to his dream come true with the purchase of the Russian River Valley winery. 

After purchasing the winery, Ron renovated the facility and employed the ancient principles of Fung Shui. He converted the estate vineyards to sustainable farming practices. The winery is now SIP-certified and Certified Sustainable by the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance. The estate is planted to 6.5 acres of Pinot Noir and 2.5 acres of Chardonnay. Certainly not enough for Ron Rubin’s dream, so he also sources grapes from five other growers in the neighborhood.  

Ron Rubin calls himself a “beverage guy” and his experience proves this. Beyond wine and spirits, Ron has also distributed sparkling water and tea. In fact, he owns the Republic of Tea brand, which his son manages. His desire in winemaking is to produce affordable, high quality wines so people can enjoy “beautiful experiences.” He has a reputation of being unpretentious and welcoming, and has no interest in making high priced, exclusive wines. He wants people to be able to enjoy his wines for any occasion.  

The wines we received were Pam’s UN-Oaked California Chardonnay 2020, and the Russian River Valley Pinot Noir 2018. Pam is Ron Rubin’s wife and first love. Like us, Pam has always preferred her Chardonnay to be unoaked, so he made it that way for her. We approve.  

Ron Rubin Winery Pam’s Unoaked Chardonnay 2020

Golden straw color. The nose is floral and pear/apple notes. On the palate, yellow apple, pear, and elderflower. Medium body with a creamy mouthfeel and medium-minus acidity. Just a hint of sweetness on the finish. Very easy drinking, a great summer sip, with a fresh finish. (SRP: $14.00)

Ron Rubin Winery Russian River Valley Pinot Noir 2018

Brick red with an amber rim. The nose displays ripe red fruit and smoke. On the palate, black cherry, plum, raspberry, and some stewed plum notes, followed by tobacco smoke, cedar, and baking spice. Medium-minus body, soft tannins, bright acidity, and a long finish of red fruit, vanilla, and spice. A nice, budget-friendly Russian River Valley Pinot Noir. (SRP: $25.00)

Ron Rubin Winery wines are available directly from the Ron Rubin Winery website. In addition to the Ron Rubin Winery line, the winery also produces the River Road line of wines, available at Total Wine & More stores. Be sure to give them a try! 

Cheers!

  • By Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael-Reynolds
  • Photos by Robyn Raphael-Reynolds

Welcome to the Neighborhood: Tasting Through the Russian River Valley with Gary Farrell Wines

Most wine lovers are familiar with the notion of appellations; designated wine regions identified by geography and legal protection. In the United States, appellations are known as American Viticulture Areas, or AVAs. Within an appellation or AVA, there can be sub-regions that, though perhaps not legally identified, can present climate and growing conditions which contribute to a unique terroir. One notable and well known AVA in Northern California is the Russian River Valley AVA. We recently learned that the Russian River Valley Winegrowers (RRVW) has defined six smaller sub-regions which they call Neighborhoods. How did we come by this newfound knowledge? Well, we were invited to a virtual tasting of single-vineyard wines from Gary Farrell Winery, exploring each of the Russian River Valley Neighborhoods. 

The following wines were provided as media samples for review. All reviews, descriptions, and opinions are our own. We received no additional compensation.

The event featured Gary Farrell Winery winemaker Theresa Heredia, who led us through history, geography lessons, and of course, tasting seven wines from the Gary Farrell Winery portfolio; three Chardonnays and four Pinot Noirs. As Theresa explained, although the wines are from the same respective grapes, grown in the same AVA, each neighborhood produces decidedly different wines with unique characteristics. 

Gary Farrell started in the wine business in the late 1970’s, originally working with local wineries. In 1982, he produced the first wine under his eponymous wine label. Since then, Gary Farrell Winery has grown in reputation and prestige and is now one of the most notable small-lot producers of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in the Russian River Valley. Though Gary Farrell sold the winery in 2004, the current owners are maintaining his legacy and standard of excellence. 

Theresa Heredia started with Gary Farrell Winery in 2012. At that time, she brought with her a decade (now nearly two decades) of experience in cool-climate, small-lot Chardonnay and Pinot Noir production. Early in her career, she worked at Domaine de Montille, in Burgundy, France, where she gained an appreciation for the Burdunidan style of winemaking. Friendly and inviting, Theresa was an amazing host for our tasting. 

In keeping with the Burgundian style, Theresa said that each of the wines in the tasting are terroir-driven, and aged in light-toast French oak barrels. The use of light toast oak is deliberate, since heavier toasts can mask the nuances of the wine itself. Theresa also mentioned, to our surprise, that the Russian River Valley AVA has more soil types than are found in all of France!  

During a brief history lesson, Theresa shared her screen, and showed us the six Russian River Valley Neighborhoods on the RRVW website. This is an interactive site that allows you to explore each of the neighborhoods and see which characteristics define each one. Theresa mentioned that only one neighborhood, Green Valley, is a designated Sub-AVA within the Russian River Valley AVA. There are currently no plans to apply for AVA status for any of the other neighborhoods. 

Image credit: Russian River Valley Winegrowers website

The seven wines we tasted, and the respective neighborhoods from which they hail, were, in order of tasting:

  • 2017 Olivet Lane Vineyard Chardonnay – Santa Rosa Plains
  • 2017 Ritchie Vineyard Chardonnay – Laguna Ridge
  • 2017 Rochioli Vineyard Chardonnay – Middle Reach
  • 2017 Bacigalupi Vineyard Pinot Noir – Middle Reach
  • 2017 Hallberg Vineyard Pinot Noir – Green Valley
  • 2017 McDonald Mountain Vineyard Pinot Noir – Sebastopol Hills
  • 2017 Martaella Vineyard Pinot Noir – Santa Rosa Plains
Ready to taste!
(Behind the scenes at Appetite for Wine: yes, those are yoga blocks!)
That’s a lot of corks for 11 am!
Why are those glasses empty?

The virtual tasting was packed with information; much more than can comfortably fit into a blog post anyone would actually read. Though it exceeded the allotted hour, it went much too fast. Since the tasting was at 11 a.m. Pacific, we sipped and spit, and re-corked the bottles, and then enjoyed them for the rest of the week! Here are our impressions of each wine:

2017 Olivet Lane Vineyard Chardonnay

Light and crisp, yet still exhibiting light buttery, toasty notes. Golden color. Aromas of apple, pear, and citrus. On the palate, apples, pear, pineapple, and floral notes. Medium body with bright acidity – more than most Cali Chards – nicely balanced. Full, lush, mildly creamy mouthfeel leading to a crisp finish of citrus and some light toast.

2017 Ritchie Vineyard Chardonnay 

A classic but restrained California Chardonnay. Golden color with fresh pineapple the first aromas on the nose, followed by citrus and butter notes. On the palate, green apple, pear, pineapple and tropical notes, as well as citrus. Soft, creamy mouthfeel balanced with medium acidity. The finish has tropical fruit and just a hint of butter. 

2017 Rochioli Vineyard Chardonnay 

A more classic California Chardonnay, though in Gary Farrell style, subtle and elegant. On the nose, pineapple, pear, and citrus, with a whiff of butter. Surprisingly crisp acidity on the palate, with pear, apple, lemon curd, and butter, with a light toast note in the finish.

2017 Bacigalupi Vineyard Pinot Noir 

Exquisite and our favorite of the tasting. The nose opens with cherry, raspberry, and cedar, with earthy notes. On the palate, the cherry leads the charge with raspberry, violet, cedar, and mushroom supporting. Medium body and acidity, with a long finish of red fruit and black tea.

2017 Hallberg Vineyard Pinot Noir 

Beautiful Pinot Noir. The nose opens with black cherry and blueberry, with some earthy notes. On the palate, lush cherry, raspberry, and blueberry fruit mingles with mushroom, earthy notes, and a general funk that I’ve come to appreciate in a well structured PN. Medium body and acidity lead to a pleasing finish of red fruit, black tea, and smoke. 

2017 McDonald Mountain Vineyard Pinot Noir

Quite interesting with herbal and vegetal notes up front, including bay leaf and eucalyptus, with red fruit following. On the palate, cranberry, pomegranate, and raspberry with the bay leaf enhancing the fruit. Medium body with bright, lively acidity. Long fresh finish. 

2017 Martaella Vineyard Pinot Noir 

Nice, fruit driven Pinot. Aromas of cherry, raspberry, and cranberry. On the palate, these red fruit flavors continue, joined by blueberry, cedar, and bay leaf. Soft and velvety, with bright acidity and a long finish of red fruit and rose petal. 

We heartily recommend any and all of these wines, and we look forward to venturing out to the Russian River Valley to explore the neighborhoods in person. 

————————————————————

We close on a somber note. We were sad to learn this week, as we prepared this post, that earlier this month, Gary Farrell Winery oenologist, Mark Osbourne, was killed after being struck by a motorist while riding his bicycle. Even more tragically, the motorist is accused of driving under the influence. Our hearts and prayers go out to the Gary Farrell Winery family. 

  • By Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael-Reynolds

Three Gems from Ravines Wine Cellars

A few weeks back, we were talking about different wine varieties, and decided we needed to incorporate more Riesling into our lives. Mere days later, as if she overheard our conversation from 3,000 miles away, Courtney from Ravines Wine Cellars, in the Finger Lakes Region of New York, emailed us offering samples of their wines, including their flagship Dry Riesling. How could we refuse?

The following wines were provided as media samples for review. All reviews, descriptions, and opinions are our own. We received no additional compensation.

Riesling is a very versatile grape. It can also be polarizing; you either like it or you don’t. In our observation, the polarization is directly related to the versatility – Riesling wines can be made in a variety of styles, from dry to sweet. A few years ago, the market was flooded with cheap, sweet Riesling from Germany, which has turned a lot of wine drinkers away from Riesling in general. That’s a shame, because Riesling is a stunning grape, food friendly and elegant. While we tend to prefer dry wines, we’ve enjoyed some excellent off-dry Rieslings, and have an appreciation for the occasional sweet sip. 

The Finger Lakes Region, in Upstate New York, is known for its Riesling. With a short growing season and cold, snowy winters, Riesling finds itself right at home there. The name, Finger Lakes, comes from the 11 long, narrow lakes formed by glacial movement millions of years ago. Seneca Lake and Cayuga Lake are two of the deepest in the US, at 618 feet and 435 feet, respectively. 

Ravines Wine Cellars is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. In 2001, husband and wife team Morten and Lisa Hallgren founded Ravines Wine Cellars, with a mission to produce a bone dry Riesling. Born in Denmark, Morten learned winemaking at his family’s estate winery in Côtes de Provence, France. Morten went on to earn a degree in winemaking from Ecole Nationale Supérieure d’Agronomie in Montpellier. Meanwhile, Lisa studied the culinary arts and is now a professionally trained Chef. As an adult, Morten came to the United States, eventually settling in Upstate New York, where he and Lisa purchased land between two ravines in the Finger Lakes region. You can read more of Morten and Lisa’s story on the Ravines Wine Cellars website.

Our sample pack from Ravines Wine Cellars included three wines; a 2017 Chardonnay, the flagship 2017 Dry Riesling, and their Bordeaux-style red blend, Maximillen 2017. These, and all of their portfolio wines are available for purchase on their website.


2017 Chardonnay (SRP $19.95)

A unique Chardonnay, made in the appassimento method by partially drying the grapes before pressing. The appassimento method is of Italian origin, and is used in making the rich and concentrated Amarone wines. 

Clear golden color. Aromas of ripe apricot, mild citrus, and pear. On the palate, there are flavors of grilled lemon, pear, peach, and citrus. Medium body with vibrant acidity. The finish lingers with fresh citrus and just a hint of toasty warmth at the end. Excellent paired with roast chicken. 


Dry Riesling 2017 (SRP $17.95)

Clear, golden color. Aromas of pear, apple, and citrus, with floral notes. On the palate, there are flavors of Bartlett pear, yellow apple, lemon lime, and lychee, with hints of honeysuckle and lemon blossom. Light body with brisk acidity and a lingering finish. Paired well with chicken and broccoli stir fry. 


Maximilien 2017 (SRP $24.95)

54% Merlot, 46% Cabernet Sauvignon. 

This is a classic Bordeaux blend. A New World wine with a distinctly Old World vibe. Ruby-garnet color. The nose is earthy, cherry, raspberry, and ripe plum. On the palate, smoky with blackberry, black cherry, ripe raspberry, and red currant, with black pepper, tobacco, cigar box, and wisps of bell pepper. Medium-plus body, with grippy tannins and bold acidity. Long finish of black fruit and spice. Somebody please get me a ribeye! 

Thank you.

We found each of the Ravines Wine Cellars wines to be distinct, expressive, and downright delicious. We are happy to have more Riesling in our lives, and will remember Ravines Wine Cellars when it’s time to re-stock that corner of the cellar.

  • By Kent Reynolds & Robyn Raphael-Reynolds
  • Photos by Robyn Raphael-Reynolds

Two Beauties from Black Stallion

Even during a pandemic, and with wineries and tasting rooms shut down due to regional stay-at-home orders, the work of the farmers, winemakers, and winery staff continues. Though nobody can visit, vines are tended, grapes harvested and crushed, and wine production must press on. (See what we did there?) So it is at Black Stallion Estate Winery. We were fortunate enough to receive samples of two of Black Stallion’s wines recently: Black Stallion Napa Valley Heritage Sauvignon Blanc 2019, and Black Stallion Limited Release Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2017. 

The following wines were provided as media samples for review. All reviews, descriptions, and opinions are our own. We received no additional compensation.

We’ve been intrigued by Black Stallion Estate Winery’s history since we first heard of them. Located along the Silverado Trail, on the east side of the Napa Valley, the property was once the Silverado Western Center. The equestria center was home to prize-winning horses, and complete with an indoor riding track and outdoor arena. The original equestrian center has been converted and is now the winery’s production facility.  

Crafted by winemaker Ralf Holdenried, these wines are classic Napa Valley; complex but decidedly drinkable and delicious. Ralf has more than 20 years of harvest experience, and this translates into the quality of the finished product. 

Black Stallion Napa Valley Heritage Sauvignon Blanc 2019 (SRP $22)

Pale straw color. The nose is a burst of fresh pineapple with some citrus/lemon. On the palate, the pineapple continues with quince, lemon lime, white peach, and a hint of chalky minerals. Fresh and lively with zesty acidity. Nicely balanced with a crisp finish. 

Black Stallion Limited Release Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2017 (SRP $60) 

Opaque purple color. Aromas of plum, blackberry bramble, black cherry, and vanilla. On the palate, blackberry, stewed plum, cassis, black cherry, vanilla, and caramel, with white pepper and baking spice. Medium-plus body, soft tannins, and medium-minus acidity. Soft, creamy mouthfeel and a long finish of black fruit and spice. Outstanding paired with grilled lamb chops. 

After tasting these wines, we have no doubt that despite the challenges of this past year, the wines of the 2020 vintage will be stunning! We can hardly wait to try them. 

Cheers!

  • By Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael-Reynolds

A Very Good Omen

When the Shelter-in-Place orders first rolled out, there was a lot of tension and anxiety around what it all means, what we will do during quarantine, and how long it will last. There was also uncertainty about supplies, not only how to get them, but whether there would even be the products we need. Would life resemble any form of normalcy?

Only a few days into the lockdown, we received a very good omen. Actually, two Omens and an Oro Bello. While we get the occasional sample of wine, we normally receive an email offering the sample. This time, the wine just arrived unannounced! Looks like we’re going to be just fine.

The following wines were provided as a media sample for review. All reviews, descriptions, and opinions are our own. We received no additional compensation.

Omen and Oro Bello wines are produced and distributed by Atlas Wine Company. With headquarters in Napa, Atlas Wine Company is building a portfolio of wines that are sustainable, approachable, and ready to drink; no long-term cellaring required, though they would hold up well if you laid them down. They source grapes from “hidden gem” vineyards. These vineyards are located in regions that are perhaps less well known, but are up and coming, and producing excellent fruit. Places like Calaveras County in the Sierra Foothills, Paso Robles, Madera, and Rouge Valley, Oregon. Grapes from these areas come at a much lower cost than say, Napa, which allows Atlas Wine Company to produce wines that are affordable.

The real test of any wine, of course, is opening the bottle! All of the wines we received proved to be exceptional, and quite food friendly. The Omen line is comprised of red wines, while Oro Bello is whites and rosé.

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Omen Wines Cabernet Sauvignon 2018 ($40)

This is a single vineyard wine, from the Rorick Heritage Vineyard in Calaveras County. Since Calaveras County has not yet received it’s own (well deserved) AVA designation, this wine is labeled with the Sierra Foothills AVA.

Inky purple color in the glass. Aromas of rube blackberry, black currant, and clove. On the palate, rich and full bodied with flavors of blackberry, blueberry, cassis, plum, and black cherry, with clove, baking spice, leather, and tobacco. Bright acidity makes it quite food friendly; we enjoyed it with grilled rib eye steak. Long finish of black fruit and black pepper.

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Omen Wines Red Blend 2018 ($20)

Another Sierra Foothills AVA wine, this is one tasty blend.

A juicy blend of 63% Zinfandel, 21% Syrah, 8% Barbera, and 8% Petite Sirah. Inky purple color. On the nose there are aromas of ripe blackberry, cherry, and fresh black pepper. Flavors of Marionberry pie, black cherry, dark plum, blueberry, and smoky, spicy notes. Rich, full bodied, with soft tannins and medium acidity. Long, spicy finish. The label says “Pairs great with burgers.” And, boy, they’re not wrong!

 

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Oro Bello Chardonnay 2018 ($35)

Another single vineyard delight, this wine hails from the Fallenleaf Vineyard in the Sonoma Coast. After press, the wine was transferred to neutral French Oak barrels to mature. This is the style of Chardonnay we really enjoy, with little to no oak influence.

Golden straw color. Wonderful citrus and tropical nose, with pineapple and lemon-lime notes, and the slightest hint of butterscotch. On the palate, fresh and clean, with pear, apple, pineapple, and citrus, with slight butter and butterscotch flavors. Medium body and lively acidity. Paired with grilled salmon with lemons, a very complementary pairing.

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Omen and Oro Bello wines are available for purchase online at their respective websites. We definitely recommend giving them a try. As a special thank you, through the rest of 2020, readers and followers of Appetite for Wine can receive 15% off when you use the coupon code: APPETITE15! Just go to https://store.atlaswineco.com/#/ and enter the coupon code at checkout!

In addition to the samples we received, the Omen line also includes a non-single vineyard California Cabernet Sauvignon  and an Oregon Pinot Noir. The Oro Bello line offers a non-single vineyard Chardonnay, a Russian River AVA Rosé of Pinot Noir, and a couple of canned wines; a Blanc de Blancs, and a newly released Light Chardonnay, with lower ABV and fewer calories. Whether you chose red, white, or rosé, still or sparkling, it’s never wrong to seek out a good omen! 

  • By Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael-Reynolds

Two Very Old World Cabernets

I don’t know about you, but when I think of “Old World” wines, I think of wines from Italy, France, Spain, or other Western European countries. Yet, Eastern European wines are starting to make a mark on the map, and for good reason. Often made from indigenous grapes, that are, pardon the pun, quite foreign to the American palate, and also very difficult to pronounce (Crljenak Kaštelanski, anyone?*), these wines are delicious, food friendly, and unique. More rustic in character than even Western European wines, they are a departure from the big, ripe, juicy wines to which many Americans are accustomed. They are also much more wallet-friendly! But these wines are not always and only made from indigenous grapes. We recently received samples of two Eastern European Cabernet Sauvignon wines, one from Bosnia and Herzegovina, and one from Croatia. 

The following wines were provided as media samples for review. All reviews, descriptions, and opinions are our own. We received no additional compensation.

Vinarija Citluk Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 (Bosnia and Herzegovina)

Not your big, Napa Cab, but in a good way. Light ruby/brick color. Aromas of raspberry, red cherry, and spice. On the palate, flavors of raspberry, cherry, red currant, cigar box, and pencil shavings. Medium body, approachable yet edgy tannins, and medium acidity. Paired with a grilled filet steak, it really drew out the fruit flavors and tamed the tannins. The finish is long, with red fruit and white pepper. (Est. Price $13-15 USD)

Vina Frankovic Cabernet Sauvignon 2015

Here comes another delicious Cabernet at a fraction of the price of Napa. Deep purple color. On the nose, blackberry, blueberry, and cherry. On the palate, big, bursting cherry, with an Old World style earthy funk, followed by blueberry, black plum, blackberry, and black currant. Juicy, full, and rich, there is ample acidity and medium tannins. Layers of complexity as the wine settles in; black fruit, açaí, oak, smoke, tobacco, and white pepper. Medium body, very food friendly, and a long finish. Outstanding QPR! (Vivino average price $11.91 USD)

These samples came to us from our good friends at Topochines Vino. While these particular wines are not currently in their inventory, they have plenty of other fantastic wines from Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and several other regions; even a few Oregon and Lodi wines! Check out their online store, get out of your comfort zone, and try something new. You’ll likely find a new favorite.

* Love California Zinfandel? Crljenak Kaštelanski is the indigenous Croatian grape recently determined to be genetically identical to Zinfandel. That’s right. Zinfandel originated not in Italy (Primitivo) as was previously thought, but across the Adriatic in Croatia.  

Cheers!

  • By Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael-Reynolds

Big, Bold Reds from De Angelis Wines

Paso Robles has come into its own as a wine region. It wasn’t too many years ago that hardly anybody had heard of this area. Now, the wines from “Paso” have gained notoriety and prestige. Recently, we were offered samples of some small batch, boutique red wines from De Angelis Wines. Naturally, we said YES!

The De Angelis Wines story began in 1999, when owners Jerry and Marsha De Angelis planted a small vineyard on their property. It started as a private venture, just to make wines to enjoy with family and friends. As their winemaking skill improved, a neighbor, who had a 30 acre vineyard, asked them to become his winemakers. So in 2004, Jerry and Marsha found themselves employed as full time winemakers.

In 2006, Jerry and Marsha participated in establishing, designing, and building a co-op winery. Once it opened, they were recruited as the chief winemakers, making wines for several growers. During that same year, they decided to launch their own brand, and De Angelis Wines, the label, was born. Even with all their success, Jerry and Marsha remain committed to hand-crafting very small lots each year. They have slowly increased production over the years, but will never make more than 1,200 cases per year.

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The De Angelis Wines portfolio includes some whites; Chardonnay and Viognier, but is predominantly red. We received samples of their 2007 Pinot Noir, San Luis Obispo County, 2009 Syrah, Santa Barbara County, 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, San Luis Obispo County, and the 2012 Elena Catherine, San Luis Obispo County, a red blend.

The Elena Catherine is homage to the family matriarch, to celebrate her 100th birthday! Here’s how Jerry and Marsha tell the story on the website:

“Who is Elena Catherine? Elena is our Mom, and this wine was developed for her 100th birthday.  (She passed away at 102 Years old!) We wanted a wine that reflects the feisty, peppery, Italian Mom that she was!  The 2012 Elena Catherine is a 13.6% alcohol wine blend containing 50% Merlot, 42% Cabernet Sauvignon and 8% Syrah. All of these wines are Estate fruit harvested from the Dry Creek Vineyard in Paso Robles, CA.”

The following wines were provided as a media samples for review. All reviews, descriptions, and opinions are our own. We received no additional compensation.

2007 Pinot Noir

 

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Brick red color. The nose is bursting with bright cherry notes, with raspberry and smoke present, also. We decanted for several hours, as suggested by a colleague. Upon pouring, there are flavors of black cherry, and ripe raspberry, with clove, baking spice, and earth. Hints of mushroom and forest floor round out the complex profile of this wine. Soft tannins and bright, lively acidity. Rich flavors and medium body, with a bold finish of red fruit, smoke, and spice. Paired well with grilled pork sausage.

2008 Syrah

 

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Inky nearly black color. Aromas of blueberry, blackberry, and black plum, with hints of oak. On the palate, blackberry, black cherry, blueberry, with vanilla, tobacco, smoke, cedar, and oak, with baking spice and black pepper on the finish. Big, bold, and full bodied with chewy tannins and medium acidity. Long finish of black fruit and spice, with tertiary notes of worn leather, earth, and smoke. Drinking well now, and will continue to soften and improve for at least another 5 years. This wine would pair well with game and savory dishes.

2010 Cabernet Sauvignon

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Rich, inky purple color, with a brick rim. On the nose there is ripe blackberry, black cherry and plum, and clove. The aromas are rich, full, and inviting. Taking a sip, flavors of blackberry, black cherry, big cassis, and chocolate, with baking spice, tobacco smoke, and black pepper. The tannins are big, but soft, and soften even more with air. There is medium acidity. The finish is long with blackberry and mocha notes. Pick your meat; beef, lamb, pork…this one goes with all.

2012 Elena Catherine Red Blend

 

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Deep, brick red color. Aromas of ripe raspberry, cherry, and blackberry. On the palate, bright blueberry, cherry, blackberry, cassis, cedar, and tobacco. Huge tannins! Even after an hour in the decanter, but balanced and approachable. This wine deserves a slab of Prime Rib now, and could lay down for 10 more years. Medium acidity and a long, long finish of black and red fruit, cedar, and white pepper.

De Angelis Wines has discontinued online sales, but if these beauties sound like your kind of wine, drop Jerry and Marsha an email. As long as you are in a state to which they can ship, they’ll hook you up!

Cheers!

  • By Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael
  • Photos by Kent Reynolds and Robyn Raphael